The Church of England has just released its provisional stats for attendance and affiliation in 2010. Overall the picture is one of a church on the turn, growing again in some areas of the country and some aspects of its life, but not in others, with a headline figure of a very slight decline in Sunday attendance.
But in Ely Diocese the picture is one of growth not decline. Average weekly attendances rose from 19200 in 2009 to 19800 in 2010 with similar increases when other measures are used. Electoral roll aggregate numbers were up from 18900 to 19100, but the really striking growth is among children and young people, where average weekly church attendance is up nearly 10% from 3700 to 4000.
Parishes across the Diocese are also talking about significantly increased congregations at both Remembrance Sunday and Christmas, but the hard figures for these will only appear in a year’s time.
All this is by no means a matter for triumphalism. We obviously hope to see growing numbers coming to church because we do believe that the Christian Gospel is good news for people’s lives, and that what we call “church” can be a real strength in building local community. But we also fully respect people’s right to choose, and good news stops being good news if that is taken away.
Nor is this a moment to sit back and rest on our laurels. There is still a lot of work to do. But it will, I hope, be an encouragement to the hard-working women, men and youngsters who make up the life of our churches and chaplaincies, and another small sign that the tide is beginning to turn.